Fallacies: Begging the Question Definition and 7 Examples
In the realm of rhetoric and critical thinking, fallacies play a significant role in understanding and evaluating arguments. One such fallacy that often creeps into literary discourse is “Begging the Question.” This fallacy occurs when an argument’s premises assume the truth of the conclusion, thereby circularly reasoning and failing to provide substantial evidence or support. In this article, we will delve into the definition of Begging the Question and explore seven illuminating examples of this fallacy in literature.
Understanding Begging the Question
Begging the Question, also known as circular reasoning or petitio principii, is a logical fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument is assumed or presupposed in one of its premises. Essentially, it’s a flawed reasoning pattern that lacks valid and persuasive evidence to support its claims.
To grasp this fallacy better, let’s consider a simplified example: “Aliens exist because I have seen them.” The argument assumes the existence of aliens as a premise, which is precisely the claim it seeks to prove. By begging the question, this argument fails to offer any substantial evidence to convince skeptics or engage in a meaningful dialogue.
Seven Notable Examples in Literary Works:
- Circular Characterization in “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville In Melville’s masterpiece, the protagonist, Captain Ahab, is described as a relentless and obsessive character. The narrative repeatedly emphasizes Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale, which is presented as an inherent aspect of his personality. This circular characterization begs the question by assuming Ahab’s obsession without delving into the deeper motivations or origins of his fixation.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare Shakespeare’s tragedy revolves around Macbeth’s ambition and the prophecies that drive him to commit heinous acts. When Macbeth encounters the witches’ predictions, his subsequent actions align with the prophecies, thus reinforcing the initial assumption. This self-fulfilling prophecy creates a circular argument that begs the question of whether Macbeth’s fate was predetermined or influenced solely by his own choices.
- Inherent Goodness in “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien In Tolkien’s epic fantasy, the character of Frodo Baggins is often portrayed as inherently good and incorruptible. This assumption is presented as a fundamental trait without exploring the complexities and challenges Frodo faces throughout his journey. By begging the question of Frodo’s goodness, the narrative neglects the potential for character development and moral ambiguity.
- Divine Design in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton Milton’s renowned epic poem explores the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. The narrative assumes a divine design and God’s ultimate authority, which begs the question of whether human beings possess genuine free will or are mere pawns in a predetermined plan. The circular reasoning within “Paradise Lost” raises profound philosophical questions that have fascinated readers for centuries.
- Artistic Expression in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde Wilde’s novel examines the concept of art and its relationship to morality. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, becomes entranced by a portrait that ages and decays while he remains eternally youthful. The story assumes the inherent corrupting influence of art without adequately exploring the complexities of individual agency and personal responsibility. This circular reasoning leads to a one-dimensional understanding of art’s potential impact.
- Moral Certainty in “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky Dostoevsky’s novel delves into the mind of its tormented.
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